What should I ask my food vendor?

What should I ask my food vendor?

We’ve heard it often; the “foodie” refrain, the farmers’ market catch-phrase, the field-to-fork cliché: “talk to your farmer.”

It’s a pretty indistinct comment — what exactly does it mean? What should you talk to your farmer, butcher, green-grocer or food-vendor about? Genetically modified organisms (GMO), organic food, antibiotics, free-range, sustainable agriculture, price per pound?

While there is no such thing as a stupid question, with lots of information — and mis-information — out there, it is important to ask the best questions the next time you visit your favourite food vendor. To help answer the question, here are five folks in the food industry locally: “What should I ask my food vendor?”

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Gerald Kara, Kara Smart Foods, Kitchener, Ont.
“I think we’ve moved the bar up from the standard and boring price factor and now generally have very clear principles we use when we select our food, whether it is supporting local growers, or organic, or superior taste. So, having said that, I would try to ascertain if the vendor’s principles and touchstones match yours. Ask what their guiding principles have been in how they have chosen the produce that they are selling.”

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Mairlyn Smith, Mairlyn Smith: Healthy Cooking Seasoned with Laughter, Toronto, Ont.
“Ask them about their farm. Why? Because there are vendors out there who have picked up produce elsewhere. Once you’re satisfied, ask for ideas on how to use the fruit or the vegetable, including how to store them properly.”

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Trevor Herrle-Braun: Herrle’s  Country Farm Market, St. Agatha, Ont.
For Herrle-Braun, it is more a matter of the larger context.

“A single question doesn’t cut it,” Herrle-Brauns stresses. We should note that his family-owned and operated farm market has just opened for its 49th year, so the proof is indeed in the pudding when it comes to context. He recommends a more comprehensive approach. “One question won’t bring satisfactory answers. Rather, it’s a relationship that builds trust and that takes time.”

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Calantha Elsby: Elora Bread Trading Co., Elora, Ont.
Elsby says that the relationship between access to sources of inspiration and building a strong food culture has been something she has been thinking about recently, so she suggests asking about that relationship.

“What do you think would help inspire or enable more people to get involved in food production?” She also recommends asking, “What factors do you think are key to building a vibrant food culture in a given region?”

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Matt Kendrick: The Bauer Butcher, Waterloo, Ont.
“I would ask how the animals are treated. You will find that a well-treated animal speaks more to the integrity of the farmer rather than just organic or natural. My experience is that farmers who talk about animals as an extension of family rather than as a product are raising happier, healthier meat.”

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